What Is Paternity Leave? A Comprehensive Guide

Paternity leave empowers fathers and partners to take time off work to care for and bond with their new baby. But do you know how to stay compliant with strict paternity leave regulations as an employer?

What Is Paternity Leave? A Comprehensive Guide
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Paternity leave is a common legal right across the world; it gives fathers and partners job-protected time off from work when they have a baby or adopt a child. However, the exact rules about who can benefit from paternity leave, as well as how long it lasts and whether it’s paid, differ around the world.

As an employer, you need to understand the local paternity leave rules for each employee’s jurisdiction. And that can be challenging! This guide will break down everything you need to know about paternity leave, answering your most common questions, such as:

  • Why do you need to understand paternity leave as an employer?
  • Who’s entitled to it?
  • Is paternity leave paid?
  • How much paternity leave are fathers entitled to?
  • What’s the best way to manage paternity leave on a global scale?

Why Do You Need to Understand Paternity Leave?

Having a baby or adopting a child is a big life event, so taking time off to spend time with and care for a new child is essential for both parents. Research also shows that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to remain involved in parenting and equitably divide household chores with their partners in the long term.

As an employer, you need to understand your obligations to your employees, including how long they can take for paternity leave, if and what they should be paid, and how you should support them throughout.

If you don’t comply with local paternity leave regulations, your business may incur fines or face legal action. Not only that, but you’ll likely damage employee trust, engagement, and retention too!

If you’re building a global team, you have to understand paternity leave regulations on a global scale, which can be even more complex and time-consuming for your HR team.

Fortunately, there are excellent solutions available to help you navigate international paternity leave laws with ease, like working with a global employment partner like Omnipresent. Skip to the end of this article to find out how.

What Is Paternity Leave?

Paternity leave is a type of leave fathers, non-birthing parents, and secondary caregivers can take to look after and bond with their new baby or adoptive child. Paternity leave - sometimes called “paternal leave” - is often part of local employment law, in which case employers must grant their employees leave if they meet eligibility requirements.

While employees are on statutory paternity leave, employers are required to hold their job. This is referred to as “job-protected leave.” In the majority of cases, employees also receive some form of pay or allowance while on leave.

Employers may choose to supplement statutory paternity leave to increase the length of leave or provide additional pay. This will be set out within company policies and employment contracts.

Who Is Eligible for Paternity Leave?

“Paternity” refers to the state of being a father, so biological fathers are typically eligible for paternity leave. In many countries, this extends to adoptive fathers too.

However, in some jurisdictions, paternity leave isn’t just for men; it also covers non-birthing parents or partners of the mother, irrespective of their gender.

In addition to the above considerations, there is a range of other criteria that employees may need to meet in order to take paternity leave. These prerequisites differ from country to country and may include:

  • The employee’s length of continuous service with their employer.
  • The employee’s contribution to certain state funds, such as national insurance.
  • The employer’s size (e.g., number of employees in the company).
  • Appropriate notice period and proof of pregnancy/adoption.

Paternity Leave Vs. Parental Leave

Parental leave is slightly different from paternity leave as it can usually be taken by either parent, regardless of their gender or birthing status.

In some countries, parental leave is offered as an alternative to maternity and paternity leave. In others, it’s a supplementary leave that follows statutory maternity or paternity leave periods. In some cases, parental leave can be used to care for older children too.

Parental leave may include a “father’s quota,” which refers to a period of parental leave reserved just for fathers. If the father doesn’t take this leave, the family loses the leave period reserved for the father. This policy is implemented in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. While it has caused some controversy, Norway has seen largely positive results, with 90% of fathers taking at least 12 weeks’ paternity leave, compared to just 3% prior to the policy’s implementation.

Gender-inclusive Family Leave

Many progressive employers opt for gender-neutral family leave policies instead of the traditional “maternity leave for women, paternity leave for men” approach. These policies empower employees to make the right decision for their unique circumstances and are inclusive of all employees.

For example, a father may wish to take full leave as the primary caregiver rather than the mother. Under statutory regulations in many countries, this might not be possible.

Gender-neutral family leave policies are also inclusive of all genders and family types, including trans people and same-sex couples, who may be excluded from statutory regulations.

Hand holding baby's hand

Is Paternity Leave Paid?

Many countries - like the UK and Spain - have laws mandating paid paternity leave. This means employees receive some form of payment or allowance while on statutory leave.

However, despite a global increase in provisions, paid paternity leave still isn’t as common as paid maternity leave. This leaves many employees with no choice but to continue working when they welcome a new child into their family.

For example, there’s no provision for paid paternity leave at a national level in the US, though some states, such as California and New York, have introduced it. Instead, employees may be eligible to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Canada and New Zealand don’t have any nationwide provisions for paid paternity leave either.

How Much Is Paternity Pay?

The amount of paternity pay an employee receives depends on their jurisdiction. Paternity leave pay is typically calculated as a percentage of the employee’s last salary before the leave or as a predefined lump sum.

For example, Ireland’s Paternity Benefit consists of a lump sum of €250 a week for two weeks, whatever the employee’s last salary before the leave was. Australia’s Dad and Partner Pay is similar; AUD 772.55 a week for two weeks.

The UK calculates paternity pay at 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings. However, pay is capped at £151.97 per week.

In some countries, employees on paternity leave may be entitled to full pay while off work. This is the case in Spain and Turkey, for example.

Who Pays for Paternity Leave?

The employee’s local jurisdiction will determine who pays for statutory paternity leave; it’s typically paid by the government via tax/social security revenue, the employer directly, or a combination of the two.

Employers may choose to pay above statutory paternity pay too. For example, they may pay the difference between an employee’s paternity leave allowance and their usual salary, so the employee receives full pay while off work. This should be outlined within your company’s HR policies and employment contracts.

Offering above-statutory paternity leave pay could help you improve employee retention and boost talent acquisition.

How Long Is Paternity Leave?

The length of statutory paternity leave differs from country to country; some provide just a few days, others several months. The average length of paid paternity leave among the OECD countries is 1.7 weeks.

Japan offers some of the longest paternity leave entitlements in the world at 12 months. This is accompanied by a partial allowance paid through the government’s social security program. However, uptake is very low; in 2017, just over 5% of eligible fathers took it. Those who didn’t take leave cited reasons such as understaffing, “unfavourable atmosphere,” workload, pay loss, and career impediment.

In Europe, Spain is one of the most generous countries for paid paternity leave, offering 12 weeks - the equivalent length of maternity leave. This policy came into effect in January 2021, a tremendous increase on the two days employees were entitled to in the early 2000s.

When Does Paternity Leave Start?

Paternity leave generally starts on the day of the baby’s birth or the adoption date. Unlike maternity leave, paternity leave doesn’t usually cover the time before childbirth or adoption. This is because maternity leave aims to enable birthing parents to rest before childbirth.

Some countries allow employees to start paternity leave later on. For example, employees in the UK can take statutory paternity leave any time between the birth of the child and up to 56 days later.

Again, some companies may choose to offer more flexibility in terms of when and for how long their employees can take paternity leave. This will be set out in their HR policies and employment contracts.

Additional Paternity Leave FAQs for Employees

If you’re an employee, you’re bound to have more specific questions about how paternity leave works for you, so below, we’ve answered some of your FAQs.

How To Apply for Paternity Leave

You typically need to give notice to your employer before taking paternity leave. The length of notice required varies per country. You may also need to give proof of pregnancy or adoption.

In order to claim paternity pay, you may need to fill out special forms from your employer or the relevant government body. You should ask your employer for further details about this.

When Can You Take Paternity Leave?

Each jurisdiction has specific paternity leave rules that determine when you can take leave. Usually, paternity leave starts from the date of your baby’s birth or upon adopting a child. This is different from maternity leave, which often starts before childbirth.

What Is SPP (Statutory Paternity Pay)?

SPP is a UK term meaning “Statutory Paternity Pay.” In the UK, employees may be eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave if they have a baby, adopt a child, or have a baby through surrogacy. Eligible employees receive either £151.97 a week or 90% of their average weekly earnings - whichever is lower.

Omnipresent Helps You Manage Global Paternity Leave Compliantly

By partnering with Omnipresent, you can rest assured your team members will receive all the local benefits they’re entitled to compliantly - including paternity leave!

Our global employment services allow you to hire, pay, and manage talent in over 160 countries and regions. By taking care of administrative tasks like onboarding, payroll, and benefits, we give you and your HR team the time and headspace you need to focus on more important projects.

Book a free consultation to get started.

The information on this page is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Please see our disclaimer for more information.

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Eunise Ling

Eunise is a Paralegal in the APAC team with a law degree from the University of Liverpool. Prior to joining Omnipresent, Eunise has worked in various start-ups based in London. She is from Malaysia but is currently based in Singapore.

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